Monday, December 29, 2008

VALKYRIE

“VALKYRIE” (Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson & Kenneth Branagh)

I haven’t decided yet if this is my new #1 film of 08, or if ‘Australia’ should retain the title. When it ended I told my wife – It’s good. It’s really good, but something kept it from being ‘great’... I couldn’t put my finger on it right away, but I’ve concluded that it’s Tom Cruise. The funny thing is – he wasn’t THAT bad. He was the weakest actor of a fantastic ensemble cast, but what bothered me about him - & director Bryan Singer gets the blame for this – is that he is the ONLY member of the cast NOT speaking with a British accent. A whole cast full of English actors playing Nazi’s & one American inserted into the lead role? It became a distraction, even though I was engulfed by the story & the way it played out – even though I knew most of the time what was going to happen next. It COULD have been great – Damn it, it SHOULD have been great & that one unforgivable flaw keeps it from being the unquestionable Best Film of 2008... Pity.
Knowing the story, or even knowing how the story ends, doesn’t necessarily mean I can’t enjoy the ride (I knew the ‘secret’ of ‘The Sixth Sense’ prior to viewing but I loved it anyway) Sean Penn was so outstanding in ‘The Assassination Of Richard Nixon’ that it didn’t matter a lick that I knew he wasn’t going to succeed. I recently watched a History Channel special on the actual Valkyrie conspiracy, so it was easy for me to follow the plot & keep track of all of the Nazi’s speaking with British accents, but my wife, who hadn’t seen the special said she was able to follow the story & characters without much difficulty (Except when she asked which character did Liam Neeson play?)
‘Valkyrie’ as I’m sure you know is how the conspirators of the plot to assassinate Hitler referred to their operation, as the Valkyrie plan was created to tell the Nazi army what to do in case Adolph Hitler was killed. The leaders of the plot were all high ranking Nazi leaders – seeing how close they actually came to pulling it off was fascinating to watch. Realizing that if not for one ‘chicken’ (Tom Wilkinson’s General Fromm) they may have succeeded in taking over Hitler’s army even without disposing of him should have everyone in the world giving Tom a dirty look everywhere he goes for a few years...
The only complaint I have with the screenplay is that they didn’t include more of the previous attempts to show just how determined these conspirators were.
Still, it didn’t matter – even knowing the operation was doomed to fail, I was intrigued by the story from beginning to end. The cast is superb; Bill Nighy as General Olbricht, Kenneth Branagh as Major-General von Tresckow & Terrence Stamp as Ludwig Beck are all to be commended for their work in this film. Even the ‘bit’ part players shined – there wasn’t a bad performance by anyone. It just baffled me that Tom Cruise was told to ‘go ahead & speak in your normal voice’ . . . Would it have worked if he had adopted an English accent? From my past viewing of Cruise’s acting abilities – No (Bleep)ing Way!
Even though Cruise wasn’t bad – he had a couple of memorable scenes (Like when he saluted General Fromm by raising his ‘hand that wasn’t there’ & loudly spouting ‘Heil, Hitler’!) I feel the movie was hampered by allowing him to be the only American Nazi in the party. I thought of other actors that would have worked in the role & came up with Russell Crowe or Viggo Mortenson (We know he can do a Russian accent, English should be a piece of cake)
Although I was surprised to see cross-dressing comedian Eddie Izzard in a supporting role - & he did an okay job - but it would have been an improvement with, say, a Brenden Gleeson in that role.
So what we have is a truly great story, mesmerizing at times, & a poor choice by the director that ruins it & just makes it VERY good... I’ll be interested to hear other opinions on this film – I know Cruise has been lambasted by several critics, but I’d blame Singer, the director as much as the actor for his semi-weak performance.

Friday, December 26, 2008

MARLEY & ME

“MARLEY & ME” (Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston & Several Yellow Labs)

It’s a toss up as to who should receive top billing here – Wilson, or the several Yellow Labs. It is Wilson’s movie with Aniston in the co-starring role, but the ‘stars’ are the dogs that play Marley from puppy to aging canine.
I have yet to read a positive review on this film & that baffles me – Did the editors ask ‘Who here hates dogs?’ & whoever said yes was given the job of seeing ‘Marley & Me’? Because any dog owner/lover is going to thoroughly enjoy this movie. I have had a dog in my life pretty much since age 4 & I could see traces of practically every dog I’ve ever owned in Marley; The gobble-gut/eat everything in sight puppy is my current dog, Duffy. The ‘I’m marching to my own drummer & all I want to do is play & have fun’; that un-trainable young pup was my Husky, Odie. A scene where Wilson is shown laying on the floor with his ailing, getting up there in years dog struck an emotional chord, as I spent the final moments with Laddie, the Collie I grew up with in a similar pose. & the final, heartbreaking moments, that I’m getting a lump in my throat as I’m writing this, was the same situation my wife & I went thru with our first pup, Sarge. I’m always able to forget that awful day by remembering that Sarge was the first birthday present I ever bought for my ‘new’ girlfriend; when we said goodbye to him 16 years later, we were an old married couple coping with the loss of our precious ‘little guy’.
So what does any of my personal reminisces have to do with this movie – Well, I think that’s the best part of ‘Marley & Me’ & why dog lovers will enjoy every moment of it – even the ‘difficult’ scenes – because we can relate to them. That’s the joy of owning a dog – they try your patience at times, but at the end of the day, they love you with every fiber of their being, while asking for nothing back in return but a few bones & an occasional pat on the head. They listen to you moan about your life & don’t say anything negative or tell you to ‘grow up & stop whining’ – they sympathize & offer a cute pair of fuzzy ears to scratch to help you get out of the doldrums.
The dogs that played Marley were either excellently trained (Being told to misbehave couldn’t have been easy to learn) or very intelligent pooches that knew the were ‘acting’ because the facial expressions often said it all; Getting the puppy Marley to look scared; getting the grown-up Marley to chew up everything in sight, including a couch & to freak out during thunderstorms. Then, when the moment came to know that ‘mom’s sad so I have to be gentle with her’, that version of Marley reacted just the way my dogs have – Yet, this canine wasn’t reacting to his real-life mama actually crying, he was reacting to an actress pretending to be unhappy.
So ‘Marley & Me’ is all over the emotional charts – I laughed out loud at some of his antics; I smiled warmly at the cute little puppy moments; & yes, tears rolled down my cheeks when John (Wilson) said ‘goodbye’ to his best friend.
Jennifer Aniston is to be given some credit as well, if just for agreeing to play the ‘heavy’ – It is her character (named Jennifer) that the audience will turn on when she yells at John to ‘Get rid of that dog!’ – Thing is we’ve all had those moments when our dogs misbehave & we threaten to ‘send them back to the pound’ or make them sleep outside or ‘NEVER get to ride in the car again!’ (My wife’s favorite expression) & then they jump in our lap & say ‘But I love you! Why are you yelling at me?’ & we realize we would never do anything to harm our precious pups – which is exactly what happens with Jennifer’s character.
For the first time in a long time, I liked Owen Wilson in a role – as frustrated writer John Grogan, a man that always wanted to be doing something other than what he was being paid to do, he played the part well, letting the dog provide the laughs while he was basically Marley’s foil. His many moments with Marley – both humorous & touching – came across as being very realistic (At least to this dog owner)
On the human side, Alan Arkin was most enjoyable to watch; as Grogan’s boss, he reads John’s first attempt at writing a ‘column’ without changing his expression & then concludes, “This is hilarious! I’m laughing my ass off!”
The column, of course was on Marley, & the writer’s humorous way of telling the citizens of Florida about his extremely hyper pup make him both well known & well-to-do.
No, it doesn’t end happily, we see Marley grow from pre-weaned puppy to elderly dog with health problems – but the last words John says to Marley forced me to fight a losing battle to keep the tears back, it was both heartbreaking & heartwarming - & still, my biggest fear was that the house lights would turn up too fast & the man sitting next to me – Mr. Alan Smithee – would catch me bawling like a 2 year old & call me a ‘pussy’.
And as every dog lover knows THAT’S the worse thing you can call a ‘dog person’...

Monday, December 22, 2008

YES MAN

“YES MAN” (Jim Carrey & Zooey Deschanel)
If it wasn’t for Zooey being so adorably cute, this film would have faltered big time.
Not a lot of laughs, with Carrey back to thinking acting childish & mugging for the camera is humorous, but there are a few comedic moments that should make you grin, or maybe even chuckle quietly. But what I took away from this romantic comedy is just a sweet little story about two opposites attracting until she discovers his persona was given to him by the director of a seminar (Terence Stamp) where the subject is told he must answer ‘Yes’ to every question or favor that is asked of him. Carrey, of course, is the ‘subject’ in question.
His divorce, coupled with a dead end job as a loan officer at a bank has caused Carl (Carrey) to just ‘give up’ – He says ‘No’ to everyone – Spends most of his time in his bathrobe watching DVD rentals while sprawled on his well worn couch.
When an old acquaintance tells him about the ‘Yes’ seminar, Carl realizes his boring life needs a jolt & he attends. The covenant he enters into with the ‘inventor’ of ‘YES’ immediately leads to his driving a homeless man ‘home’ to a dark, wooded area of a park, allowing the hobo to talk on his cell phone until the battery dies & then running out of gas shortly after dropping the man off. But this eventually leads to a chance encounter with Allison,(Zooey) a little cutie on a motorbike. In fact, by saying yes to everything, Carl happens upon Allison again. He soon realizes when he sticks with the agreement, good things happen & when he goes against the rule bad things happen (Like when he says ‘no thanks’ to his elderly neighbor when she offers to... uh, pleasure him)
So, ‘Yes Man’ isn’t all that funny, but it is a pleasant romance story. If you go in thinking you’re going to laugh a lot, you’ll be disappointed – so go into it with low expectations on the ‘laugh-o-meter’ & you won’t be sorry you said yes to ‘Yes Man’.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

FOUR CHRISTMASES

“4 CHRISTMASES” (Vince Vaughn & Reese Witherspoon)
Why does garbage like this do so well at the box office? All I remember – other than Robert Duvall & Jon Voight embarrassing themselves by appearing in it – is an inane scene where Vaughn is attempting to install a satellite dish atop his father’s house,
falling off the roof with dish in hand and destroying his dad’s television by making it fly about the den crashing against the walls... ho ho (yawn) ho...
I went because I like Vaughn – ‘Fred Clause’ wasn’t complete crap so with the above mentioned vets, I thought this might be a cut above the normal Christmas movie fare... it isn’t. It’s trash. Not a hollow turd like ‘Christmas with the Kranks’ or ‘Deck the Halls’, but it isn’t worth your time or money.
The premise is as shallow as the lead characters; to avoid their families during Christmas, couple Vaughn & Witherspoon go on vacation Christmas week – When all flights are cancelled & they are interviewed on local TV (&, of course, their families ‘just happen’
to all be watching at that precise moment) they are forced to visit all 4 of their divorced parents’ homes. Each just as boring & unfunny as the next – At least it explains why they go out of town every December to avoid these people – the only ‘merry’ part of this celluloid nightmare is when the credits begin to roll & you can get away from these annoying jackasses...

NOBEL SON

“NOBEL SON” (Alan Rickman, Mary Steenburgen, Bryan Greenberg & Shawn Hatosy)
Not a completely original plot idea, but one that could have led to a promising story; Son of a recent Nobel Prize Winner is kidnapped & held for 2 million in ransom – Twist #1, the father is an a**hole & thinks his son is ‘screwing’ with him to get out of going to Sweden to be with him to pick up his award. Twist #2, the kidnapper has a mysterious history with the father that actually leads to the son wanting to help with the money drop.
Yes, it has an interesting plot with intriguing possibilities. The problem is – it gets too overloaded with twists & backstabbing moments that by the time we reach the final conclusion, it turns out to be the lamest of all possible outcomes... So, for the most part I enjoyed this film - & then the last 10 minutes turned me against it.
Rickman plays Eli Michaelson, a pompous egomaniacal chemistry professor, & even though he’s ‘over-the-top’ unlikable, Rickman’s drool delivery of his lines makes him at least an interesting character to watch. Steenburgen plays his wife,Sarah, a police psychiatrist that suffers thru life with this ultimate lout of a cheating husband for no apparent reason – So their grown son doesn’t feel as though he comes from a broken home? It was nice to see Bill Pullman playing the detective in charge of investigating the kidnapping, as I’ve always enjoyed his work. & for the most part, I don’t have a problem with the rest of the cast; with the exception of Eliza Dushku playing a flakey ‘poet’ named City Hall... Yeah, sometimes coming up with ‘original’ character names makes you look like a moron – Hey, let’s call her Yellow Firehydrant! No, that’s dumb, let’s go with City Hall instead – You’re right, that’s a lot better... Eliza is very cute, with an exceptionally sexy body, but her diploma from the Drew Barrymore School of Acting isn’t going to get her any meaty roles any time soon...
Bryan Greenberg plays the dorky son, Barkley & Shawn Hatosy, the kidnapper with many hidden secrets. Cameos by Danny DeVito & Ted Danson made me yearn for a ‘Taxi’ or a ‘Cheers’ movie to be made – Yes, the ending was so rotten, it had me inventing more dumb ideas for old sitcoms being revived!
So where in the hell are all the Oscar caliber films that are supposed to be coming out this time of year? I still have ‘Iron Man’ & ‘Tropic Thunder’ in my top 5 for cryin’ out loud!

The DUCHESS

“The DUCHESS” (Kiera Knightly & Ralph Fiennes)
Took in this period piece for $3 basically because I knew I could sit & watch Kiera be beautiful for an hour & a half & just about get my money’s worth off that alone... Unfortunately the way they presented her character, I had absolutely no sympathy for her plight whatsoever – The woman gets what she deserves...
The film pretty much opens with her mother (Charlotte Rampling) telling Georgiana(Knightly) The Duke of Devonshire (Fiennes) has ‘asked for her hand’ – ‘G’ wonders why since they’ve only met twice & he’s never shown any interest in her. Still, when her mother proudly announces that she will become a Duchess, G beams with pride at being ‘chosen’ for such a lofty title... So she’s just as superficial as The Duke (& her mother, for that matter) & when he turns out to be a chauvinistic blowhard that simply wants a ‘breed mare’ to give birth to an heir, why are we suppose to feel sorry for her? Poor little thing didn’t expect marrying a total stranger with a pompous title to be a poor choice?
So the movie just rolls on & on with one scene of obnoxious adulterous behavior after another until you really hope one of these cretins would pull out a gun & knock off the other so we can be rid of a least one stupid twit of a Duchess, or one snobbish ‘dictator’ Duke – But, alas, fair fans of the cinema, such a scene never takes place; it just rolls on & on & on until the ‘And here’s what happened to them the rest of their lives...’ paragraphs show up to let you know nothing exciting ever DOES happen to these boorish characters... & the worst of it is, they plaster so much make-up onto Kiera’s naturally pretty physiognomy that she isn’t all that attractive in many of her scenes... Oh, the injustice of it all - $3 shot down the drain!

RIGHTEOUS KILL

“RIGHTEOUS KILL” (Robert De Niro & Al Pacino)
I didn’t go into this movie thinking it was going to be great just due to the star power of the lead actors – Pacino has always been vastly over-rated in my mind & De Niro doesn’t seem to be too picky about scripts lately. I’d heard how predictable & mundane the plot was, & although I didn’t see the ending coming - when all was said & done – no, it wasn’t very original. It seemed like the storyline was honed so the ‘hammier’ of the two actors could do just that – Ham it up with an implausible, insipid finale.
The title refers to a series of ‘serial’ killings where the victims were criminals that ‘got away’ with their crimes – released by the system for lack of evidence, etc. Normally, I’m a sucker for such fare – as long as we can see that the criminals are indeed guilty & deserve what’s coming to them, I’m all for vigilante justice. So, we don’t care about the victims, so what else is there to care about? I guess, trying to guess which one of the star detectives is committing the justifiable murders – I thought the clues were pointing toward the horny female forensic detective, who was more hooker-like than a professional police officer (Carla Gugino, whom I haven’t seen in quite a while & although she’s a pretty little thing, I’ve seen better acting in Safeway commercials)
The guilty cop leads fellow detectives to focus on an ex-cop, now struggling to make ends meet as a ‘mall security guard’ – just one problem with that plot twist – we know he’s innocent – So when he jumps into the car with one of the investigating officers, we
know he isn’t going to cause him any harm – There’s no ‘Oh My God, he’s getting in the car –What’s he going to do next?’ moment... There’s no real suspense here because it’s a policeman killing guilty criminals - Do we really care if he gets caught? & when the finale ‘kill’ takes place, we’re left wondering ‘Why stop there?’ The vigilante doesn’t get caught, he simply cops to the killings... Why? Yes, this is another one of those reviews that ends with a question for the actors involved in this film... Why?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

MILK

“MILK” (Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, James Franco & Emile Hirsch)
A little bit of a disappointment, but a good film nonetheless. Sean is being called the odds-on favorite to win Best Actor, and I think he’s the best actor in the world today, so I hope he does, but to be honest, I thought he was better in “The Assassination of Richard Nixon”, “I Am Sam” & “Dead Man Walking”.
Obviously homophobes are going to stay away from this movie, but for those of you that might feel uneasy over seeing ‘gay’ sex – it isn’t as graphic as I feared it might be – there’s plenty of male to male make out scenes but no creepy nude scenes (except one that takes place in a darkened room) & no ‘ride ‘em, cowboy’ Brokeback Mountain tent scenes. Even though I was slightly uncomfortable with the passionate kissing scenes but not to the point where it made me dislike the film.
But I can’t really say that I liked it all that much – & here’s why – the archived footage of the actual events that were used distracted from the characterizations; it gave the film somewhat of a documentary feel. It’s more of a period piece on the 70’s Gay Rights movement than it is the story of Harvey Milk - & yes, I realize that’s what Harvey was all about, but if that’s the case – why call the film ‘Milk’? Call it ‘The Recruits’ instead (Since every one of Harvey’s speeches began with the line, “I’m Harvey Milk & I want to recruit you.”)
I guess I wanted the plot to center more on Harvey & Josh Brolin’s character, Dan White. To explore their relationship more & what lead to the tragic events that end the film.
I know that if I were gay & felt strongly about ‘the cause’, I would have enjoyed the film more, but it got to the point of being the same scene shown over & over again; Harvey runs for political office/gay make-out scene/Harvey loses election/gay make-out scene/Harvey runs for political office/gay make-out scene/Harvey loses election...
And Harvey is also shown to be flawed – a scene where he angrily voices his disappointment over an initiative for human rights not containing the word ‘gay’ makes him look like a hypocrite. His choice of boyfriend, a pretty boy latino with the I.Q. of a feather duster, makes him appear to be superficial; ‘as long as the sex is good, I don’t care if my lover is an embarrassingly needy bimbo’.
Among the supporting cast, Emile Hirsch impressed me the most – overlooked for a Best Actor nod in last year’s “Into The Wild”, the kid bounces back here from what I’m sure was a career low point in playing ‘Speed Racer’. He plays Cleve Jones, a runaway teenager (from Phoenix) that Harvey ‘recruits’ to join his cause. When Harvey finally wins an election, Cleve is given the job of leading the gay marches on City Hall since Harvey is no longer allowed to do so (Since he works there!)
Josh Brolin’s name has been mentioned as possible Supporting Actor fodder, but I don’t see it at all. He has one drunken scene where his character has to change from his normally dour demeanor, but other than that, it’s a one-note role & not very challenging at that. All I remember thinking about his performance in ‘Milk’ was that he sure didn’t look like George W. Bush in this one...
Praise is being heaped upon James Franco (As Harvey’s earlier boyfriend, Scott) & once again, I thought his portrayal was low-key & ‘one note’; Scott’s main duties seemed to be French kissing Harvey & smiling a lot.
The most disturbing scene for me comes at the end – just on the off chance you DON’T know how the story ends, I won’t go into details, but the finale is particularly gruesome because of how realistic it looks. I’m afraid that image is going to stick with me for a long time since its sending shudders down my spine just writing about it.
So ‘Milk’ is a good film, but not great. Sean Penn gives an impressive performance that is worth viewing; he’s 'full blown' gay, but he’s not flamboyant about it. Penn's Harvey is a sweetheart; someone every non-biased person would love to have as a friend. I guess he learned from “I Am Sam” & decided NOT to go FULL homesexual.
Harvey is a very nice, lovable man; unsure of himself at times, but staying focused on the task at hand. Harvey loves men, but he loves his status as the first openly gay man to be elected to public office more.
After spending forty years doing ‘nothing’ with his life, Harvey moves to San Francisco & makes Gay Rights his passion – His entire campaign stems on telling homosexuals to ‘come out of the closet’ so that everyone can see that they know someone who is gay & they’re just like ‘normal’ people; something I learned many years ago.
So I fully expected to like ‘Milk’ but the movie was just too preachy & kind of boring in spots. It does, however pack a huge wallop of an ending – even when you know what’s coming, it doesn’t stop it from being powerful & heartbreaking...

Friday, November 28, 2008

AUSTRALIA

“AUSTRALIA” (Nicole Kidman & Hugh Jackman)
When I saw the preview to this it had ‘epic’ written all over it - & Hollywood loves epics, so I predicted it would win Best Picture of 2008 just off the trailer... For the first twenty minutes I thought, “How misleading – this is a pile of junk!”
I hated it from the beginning – having a small boy that was difficult to understand doing the narration had me shaking my head in bewilderment. When the kid started singing like Celine Dion, I was ready to leave the theatre & ask for my money back! And then, it turns...
The previews were not misleading – this is an epic among epics – “Australia” catapults Hugh Jackman from known movie actor to World famous film star – That’s the only way I can describe his performance – He owns the screen in this film – he’s handsome, he can act & he displays moments of ultimate tough guy & sentimental softie & not once looking out of character while doing so – He simply exudes ‘movie star’.
Nicole Kidman gives one of her finer performances as well, though she is part of the problem with the beginning by playing her hoity toity rich b*tch ‘Lady Ashley’ with a typical snooty stiffness that made her look ‘cookie cutter’ – as though she were merely imitating other actresses playing similar roles from the past. But she too takes a dramatic turn for the better as the film wears on.
“Australia” is an extraordinary film in that it actually made me notice the cinematography; I’m normally a ‘good story/good acting & I’m happy' kind of guy – I
don’t generally care what it looks like, as long as it isn’t distracting from the story &/or acting. The scene that first made me go ‘wow’ involves a cattle stampede; once you’ve seen the film you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to. Even though I knew what was going to happen, the entire sequence made my jaw drop – it was ‘spectacular’. And from that moment on, this film had me hooked – I could even forgive the little boy’s poor acting & horrible narrating – I wanted these people to succeed (& survive) though I knew that one or more of them would not. Rule #2; develop characters that are worth caring about – “Australia” does that brilliantly because they take the somewhat unlikable lead characters & turn them into real, yet unique human beings. Are you getting the feeling that I think this is the Best Picture of 2008?
Using a basic Good vs. Evil plot, the story revolves around Kidman’s Sarah Ashley, who flies to Darwin. Australia in 1939 to join her estranged husband on their cattle ranch. She arrives on the same day her husband’s murdered body is discovered; a ‘mystical’ aborigine known as King George is blamed for the killing. King George (David Gupilil) spends a great deal of his time chanting to the night sky. He also seems to have a connection with Nullah, the young half white/half black boy (Called a ‘creamy’ by the racist townfolk; portrayed by unknown child actor, Brandon Walters)
Lady Ashley is advised to sell the ranch to local cattle baron King Carney (Bryan Brown) but she reneges on the deal when she discovers the man in charge of running her ranch, Neil Fletcher (David Wenham) has been secretly working for Carney & stealing her cattle. She hires ‘Drover’ (Hugh Jackman) to round up her cattle & help to deliver the herd to market. This venture is what leads to the stampede & ultimately brings Lady Ashley & the ‘Drover’ into each other’s arms. Though the heart of the movie is as much the connection between Sarah & Nullah as it is between the two adults.
The film then amps up the drama by employing an air attack by the Japanese; if I were to chastise this movie at all it would be that they should have explained the reason for this attack other than to give the special effects people lots of things to blow up. Still, the aftermath produces some fairly impressive scenes of mass destruction & several ‘lump in the throat’ moments as the 3 lead characters struggle to survive & find one another to hopefully bring about that elusive ‘happy ending’. Obviously I won’t tell you what happens here, but I will say ‘Australia’ delivers in every way shape & form that you want an ‘epic’ to entertain you. After a rocky beginning, I fell in love with this movie & seriously doubt I will see a better one for quite a while.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

BOLT

“BOLT” (Voice of John Travolta)
To save you a couple of bucks, there isn’t any reason to see this cartoon in 3D;
as there are no special 3D effects with that ‘wow’ moment.
I would recommend it highly for young children as ‘Bolt’, the animated dog is absolutely adorable, despite being voiced by John Travolta. There aren’t any
‘adult humor’ lines as in most modern-day cartoons – It is very much like an animated ‘Underdog’.
I wanted to see this when I heard about the premise; a TV superhero dog believes
that he actually has supercanine powers (Well, they aren’t superhuman powers now,
are they?)
He gets separated from his owner/Co-star & finds himself out in the real world thinking he can stop evil doers with his ‘power bark’. Fortunately the lead v/o
work of Travolta & Miley Cyrus (voicing Bolt’s co-star, Penny) doesn’t detract from the story, which uses tried & true standard Disney fare – it is cut from the same mold as ‘The Incredible Journey’ except instead of a second dog, there’s a delusional hamster that believes Bolt is a real superhero dog.
To bolster ratings of the TV series, a 2-part ‘Bolt’ episode is devised; the cliffhanger involving Penny being kidnapped by the evil ‘Man with the Green Eye’. Bolt has lived is entire life on the set & the producers have gone to great lengths to make the pup believe that all of his adventures are real by hiding cameras & microphones. They do this to make Bolt stand out as the single greatest canine method-actor in the business – If the dog believes he has superpowers, so will the audience. Penny begs the director to let Bolt see that she wasn’t really kidnapped, but they claim that will give away the secret of the TV show. So Bolt escapes from his trailer & ventures out to rescue Penny...
Styrofoam is blamed for Bolt’s weakened powers (After he lands in a box full of ‘peanuts’ & gets transported from Hollywood to New York)
The Man with the Green Eye has a black cat so when Bolt encounters a lookalike black cat, he captures the feline & forces her to take him to Penny. The cat, Mittens (nicely voiced by Susie Essman) initially thinks she’s in the clutches of a psychotic nut-hound, but after meeting a TV addicted hamster named Rhino (Mark Walton) she comes to realize that Bolt is a duped 'TV actor'. The transformation from arch enemies to best friends between Bolt & Mittens gives this animated tale its heart.
For comedy, it doesn’t offer too many guffaw inducing lines, but it has numerous whimsical moments; a trio of dimwitted pigeons provide some of the funniest scenes, but they ARE over-used & by the end you kind of wished they’d brought in some different characters to deliver their lines. (I guess since they were aiming at a younger audience they figured they should keep it simple)
If you’re a dog lover you’ll probably enjoy this film, but if you have kids 10 or under, take them to see it.
Normally my wife will say, “Wasn’t that cute?” at the end of a cute little movie like this, but for ‘Bolt’ I beat her to the punch by saying, “Wasn’t that adorable?” And that is the best adjective to describe ‘Bolt’ & his journey across America to rescue his ‘person’ & continue the quest even after he discovers the truth about his life & that Penny is just an actor pretending to love him. It is a nice lesson in friendships & (puppy) love for kids of all ages.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The EXPRESS

“The EXPRESS” (Rob Brown & Dennis Quaid)

Other than knowing he was the first black man to win the Heisman trophy, I didn’t know very much about Ernie Davis; & even though I enjoyed this movie quite a bit, it did seem to harken back to familiar territory covered recently (by “Glory Road”) & long ago (“Brian’s Song”) I feel it is important to see films such as this to remind us of what despicable people the parents of the baby boomer generation really were. It is difficult for me, personally, to view because I’m embarrassed to admit that this is how I was brought up - & yet proud of myself for ‘growing up’ & discovering my parents were wrong, & that anyone who judges another human being by his ethnicity is a moron. Every time I hear Aerosmith’s “Living On The Edge”, I want to write Steven Tyler & tell him to re-record that song & change the line, “If you can judge a wise man by the color of his skin, then mister you’re a better man than I.” to “Mister, you’re a lesser man than I” because the ‘better’ man doesn’t judge people by their skin color.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, movies!
I liked how they made the focus on Ernie’s relationship with his coach, Ben Schwartzwalder(Dennis Quaid) As Jim Brown (Darrin D. Henson) tells Ernie (Rob Brown) ‘Ben is a great coach, he will make you a better football player’ but don’t expect him to treat you as if you were a member of his ‘team’. Ernie takes this information to Syracuse & teaches his coach a thing or two about people while Schwartzwalder utilizes Ernie’s natural talents on the football field toward an undefeated season & a match up with racist Texas in Dallas in the Cotton Bowl to decide #1.
Rob Brown does an impressive job conveying Ernie’s emotions; a childhood stutter causes adult Ernie to learn to speak distinctly - & this is where Ernie separates himself from idol Jim Brown – Jim just went thru the motions & did what he had to do to get a lucrative job in the NFL – Ernie challenged the rules that said a black man can’t do this or do that & forced his coaches & team mates to see that hiding behind the cloak of ‘Hey, at least we give them a chance by putting them on the team1’ doesn’t make them any less prejudice than the idiots in West Virginia or Texas that spew their racial insults openly.
Charles Dutton plays ‘Pops’, Ernie’s Grandfather; it is a subtle, yet moving portrayal as Dutton shows his emotions without saying a word in most of his scenes.
Although the film centers on Ernie’s college years in the late 50’s & early 60’s, the story covers his entire life. It is an emotional tale & I’ll admit it brought water to my crusty old eyes. Yes, it has a familiar theme, but the Ernie Davis story is one that you won’t forget once you’ve seen it - & please do see it when you get a chance.

Monday, November 17, 2008

ZACK & MIRI . . .

“ZACK & MIRI MAKE A PORNO” (Seth Rogen & Elizabeth Banks)
For those of you who want to see this just to see how far they push the envelope?
Save your cash, they don’t even lick the damn thing! If you’re a Seth Rogen fan & you thought ‘Pineapple Express’ was a great flick, you’ll love this because it’s just as unfunny as that piece of junk was. This, like ‘Express’ comes across as a film without an actual script – just ideas - & then the actors were told to improvise their dialogue...
Either that, or Seth Rogen is actually getting worse as an actor as his popularity rises for some weird reason. Fortunately, Rogen (as Zack) doesn’t get naked in his porno; unfortunately, neither does Elizabeth Banks (Miri) If she had, then there would be at least ONE reason to pay money to see this film. But she doesn’t, so don’t.
I was so tired of Rogen being matched up with great looking women, I decided not to see him hook up with another cute actress – then I learned that they play room mates that aren’t a couple, so I decided to see what the deal was with the ‘Almost’ NC-17 rating.
I believe writer/director Kevin Smith used an actual penetration scene (With actual porn star Katie Morgan who provides the female nudity) just to get the NC-17 & then cut it out so he could promote the film as being cutting edge. This comedy porno is neither funny nor dirty; it is quite bland to tell the truth - & to reveal a SPOILER ALERT piece of information – Zack & Miri DO end up having sex with each other... with all of their clothes on & mostly showing close ups of their faces! (& if there’s anything less sexy than a close-up of Seth Rogen, I have yet to see it!)
The plot doesn’t really fit, since Zack & Miri both have jobs & yet somehow can’t pay their bills(???) So the whole ‘we’re so broke we have to resort to making a porno’ premise is unreasonable. The reason Zack MUST have a job is so they can use the in store video equipment to film their PG-13 rated porno... A PG-13 porno starring Seth Rogen...
As my dog said to me when he walked into the bathroom for a drink of water & found me sitting on the bowl – “Who wants to see that?”

Saturday, November 15, 2008

ROLE MODELS

“ROLE MODELS” (Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott & Elizabeth Banks)
Here’s the premise, tell me if this ‘sounds’ like something you’d want to see;
Danny (Rudd) is bored with his life & especially His job – He drives from school to school selling an energy drink under the guise of an ‘Anti-Drug’ program. His partner, Wheeler (Scott) dresses up in a Minotaur costume & shouts out encouraging phrases as Danny does his sales pitch, er, I mean, anti-drug abuse speech.
On his birthday, his co-workers throw him a party, inviting his longtime girlfriend Beth (Banks) to attend as well. A karaoke machine is available & Beth winds up singing by herself because ‘Downbeat Danny’ would rather sit & mope about his boring life than have a good time witrh her.
The next day Danny gets wired on the energy drink & explodes at the kids by using filthy language – he then discovers the company Minotaur 4WD is about to be towed so he jumps into the truck & crashes it into the statue of a horse outside the school.
Danny continues to dwell in his misery & decides the way out is to ask Beth to marry him & he tells her just that – Let’s get married because I’m bored with my life & need a change. Beth breaks up with him. Now, even more depressed than ever, Danny broods constantly.
Danny & Wheeler are given the choice to either do 3 months in jail or log in a ton of community service hours being the ‘big’ brothers to needy children. The boys they are connected with are a foul-mouthed black kid & a geeky nerd that wears a cape & pretends he’s living in medieval times. Oh, & I’ll throw this little plot twist in as well, Wheeler bonds with Ronnie, the black kid, by playing old Kiss songs for him & pointing out that Paul Stanley’s ‘Love Gun’ is actually referring to his... member.
Like it so far? Sounds like a total piece of garbage, doesn’t it? Here’s the surprise – I liked this movie. Don’t ask me how, but they make it work.
Jane Lynch (The store manager in ’40 Year Old Virgin’) has many humorous scenes as the leader of the local ‘Big Brothers’ organization; constantly referring to her days as a cocaine addict & the disgusting things she used to do to get high.
Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Why didn’t someone tell this kid to change his name?) is Augie, the kid that thinks he’s a ‘knight in days of yore’ & Bobbe J. Thompson is Ronnie. In the beginning, Danny makes it obvious to Augie that he’s just ‘pretending’ to be his friend until he logs in enough hours to fulfill his community service – so there’s no hope for any future bonding moments with them; Wheeler & Ronnie are a different story, Ronnie actually comes to admire Wheeler because he teaches him how to ogle women’s breasts without being detected. Wheeler is an actual horndog & takes Ronnie along to an adult party, leaving the boy to play video games while he scores with one of the horny chicks in attendance. A mistake is made when Ronnie gets upset that Wheeler would abandon him – they made it plain that the kid admired Wheeler for his sexual promiscuity – So why would he get upset because the jerk left him while he... fulfilled his wanton urges?
Kerri Kenney-Silver plays Augie’s mother, Mrs. Farks & I knew I’d seen her somewhere before, but couldn’t place her – At first I thought it was Beth Littleford from the Daily Show, but soon discovered that was incorrect. Come to find out she plays the dumb female cop on 'Reno 911', except in ‘Role Models’ she’s blonde & isn’t bad looking at all.
Anyway, it’s Rudd & his character that have to redeem themselves & save this film from being another movie about a jerk that doesn’t deserve all the good things (& beautiful women) that fall his way (See ‘My Best Friend’s Girl, below) & he pulls it off. From the moment he has dinner with Augie’s parents until the Kiss tribute finale at the Medieval Times’ battle of the century, Danny becomes likable & sincerely repentant of his past behavior. & yes, it sounds like the plot to a film for teenagers, but it isn’t – It’s rated R for a reason – Jane Lynch’s line about how she’ll be able to get the judge to not throw them in jail after they missed a court appearance made me laugh loudly, but the best line belongs to Mints-Plasse (‘McLovin’ from “Superbad”) as he rambles & rants about his life while attempting to give his Kiss ‘army’ a pre-battle pep talk. I’ll just say that if you don’t know who Marvin Hamlisch is or what he looks like – look him up before you see this film, otherwise the best line will go over your head.
It drags a little just prior to the finale, but this is a surprisingly funny movie that I recommend highly if your just looking for some nice friendly R-Rated comedy – with a sentimental man/boy bonding tale thrown in for all you pedophiles out there to enjoy...
“MY BEST FRIEND’S GIRL” (Dane Cook, Kate Hudson & Jason Biggs)
Seen for $3 at East Valley, this one was ‘almost’ worth the reduced price of admission.
It has a few good laughs, but as far as character’s & storylines go – it’s a complete failure. First, it tries so hard to be like Wedding Crashers, it’s embarrassing at times, yet because it rips off a very funny movie some of the best lines/scenes are from the sister’s wedding segment.
Premise; Dane Cook plays Tank, a total scumbag whose regular job is being a telemarketer (Don’t you hate him already?) his hobby/sideline job is going out on dates with women who have recently broken up with their boyfriends & being such an a—hole that they come to appreciate what they had & go back to the lamoid they dumped. The lamoids in question pay Tank to provide this service.
Tank’s best friend Dustin (Jason Biggs) is in love with co-worker Alexis (Kate Hidson) but can’t seem to make it past the ‘buddy’ stage; when he finally blurts out ‘I love you’ during a casual dinner with Alexis, she ‘suggests’ they take a break from their friendship. Desperate, Dustin implores Tank to ‘work his magic’ on Alexis. Tank reluctantly agrees.
He ‘arranges’ a chance encounter with Alexis, gets her phone number & takes her out.
For some unknown reason Alexis decides to get roaring drunk prior to being picked up for her date with Tank. So when he plays obnoxious, women degrading rap songs & takes her to a strip club & forces her to watch him receive a topless table dance, she thinks he’s a fun guy... Until she invites him to have sex with her & he turns her down (because she’s Dustin’s girl) So Alexis is upset because Tank DIDN’T use & degrade her in bed the same way he did on their date... HUH?
Alexis gives Tank a second chance & they end up in bed together & become... bed partners – they rarely go out on dates, they just get together &... copulate.
Dustin catches them together, quits his job & disappears (& Alexis can’t put 2 + 2 together to figure out what’s been going on)
When Alec Baldwin appears as Tank’s father, Professor Turner, I thought there would be a redemption period, but no, Prof. Turner is even more shallow & degrading toward women than Tank could ever dream of being. Plus, this time Alec’s character just isn’t given any zingers to spout.
The movie then goes into ‘Wedding Crashers’ mode when Alexis’ sister Rachel gets married (Rachel Getting Married? I should have known this wasn’t going to work!)
& Tank goes to extremes to get EVERYONE at the wedding to despise him. Although these scenes made me laugh out loud, they were still ‘stolen’ from Wedding Crashers –
Tank talks dirty to a table full of children; Tank comes on to Alexis’ mother in a very crude manner; Tank gets drunk & drops Grandma during a dance & Tank eats the top layer of the wedding cake before its presented... You get the idea – overkill.
The word a—hole is used repeatedly to describe Tank – He proved it on their first date - & still, Alexis wants to be with this jerk? So why do we care if these shallow & stupid people end up ‘happily ever after’ or not? Answer – We Don’t. & that’s what makes this film POINTLESS. Characters that are void of having any ‘character’ outweighs the fact that there are some laughs sprinkled throughout the script. So, sorry, Cars fans – let’s hope the next song title of theirs that is made into a movie fares a whole lot better than this one... Hmm, “Shake It Up” doesn’t sound very promising; “Tonight She Comes” could be a porno; so I guess that leaves “Good Times Roll”... No wait, wasn’t that the title of Sonny & Cher’s failed attempt to become movie stars? All right, “Since You’re Gone” it is; the story of a guy that gets fed up with his job & runs the company truck into a horse statue to keep it from being towed & then has his longtime girlfriend break up with him right after he proposes to her... Uh-oh, I think I might be stealing this idea, I’ve heard that plot before somewhere...

The HOUSE BUNNY

“The HOUSE BUNNY” (Anna Faris)
About 3/4ers of the way thru this fiasco, it suddenly dawned on me – Hugh Hefner doesn’t have a lick of talent & yet, there he is surrounded by plastic coated bimbos young enough to be his great granddaughters & living in a mansion... How’d he do that?
A better question would be – why do filmmakers insist on having the real ‘Hef’ play himself in movies when the guy couldn’t get a bit part in an elementary school play?
Anyway, this is Anna Faris’s film & she’s hit & miss in the title role (Mostly ‘miss’)
Anna is Shelley, an aging ‘bunny’ that is hoping to finally be selected as ‘Playmate of the month’, but instead receives a note from Hef on the morning after her 27th birthday telling her to get out of the mansion.
Shelley stumbles into a sorority & meets the other house mothers; she is ridiculed by the head mother (Beverly D’Angelo) but still comes out of the conversation thinking she’s house mother material & applies at the loser Zeta Alpha Zeta house.
Emma Stone & Kat Dennings play the 2 lead geeks that can’t get anyone to pledge to their sorority (& thus they are about to be shut down)
Shelley teaches them how to be bimbos – the homeliest girls on campus transfer into gorgeous babes overnight & become the hottest sorority around receiving more than enough pledges to keep their charter alive. The ‘snooty’ leader of the smart, pretty girls sorority plots to steal their pledges & that pretty much takes you to the inevitable conclusion. Throw in the exciting Colin Hanks as Shelley’s love interest & you’ve got the makings of a really bad film. I like Anna, she’s cute & can be funny, but if there’s a House Bunny 2, I think we all can agree that whatever you consider to be your Higher Power hates the United States of America...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED

“RACHEL GETTING MARRIED” (Anne Hathaway & Rosemarie DeWitt)
At one point during ‘Rachel Getting Married’ Anne Hathaway’s Kym sits in a NA meeting & whines about her pathetic life following a family tragedy that leads to her drug addiction - being, as we have witnessed many times prior to this scene, totally self-absorbed. Behind her sits a 30-ish male; head tilted to the side & slightly back, eyes shut and mouth agape; obviously sound asleep . . . Oh, how I envied that man!
Why, oh why couldn’t I have fallen asleep during this wretched film?
This movie is awful – very reminiscent of last year’s flop, ‘Margot At The Wedding’ and every bit as tedious & boring – maybe more-so if that’s at all possible.
I hated this film right from the opening scenes due to the amateurish camera work – Most of the movie is purposely meant to look as though it was being filmed by a family member (One that might possibly have Parkinson’s disease)
So it is like watching a home made video filled with unlikable, non-witty, whiney, self-centered babies. If that’s your idea of a fun evening – & remember these are the home movies of people you’ve never met – you’ll enjoy ‘Rachel Getting Married’. And IF you’re that easily entertained, then I’d like to invite you to my house so I can show you the video of my wedding ceremony & reception – Believe me, it has just as much entertainment value as ‘Rachel Getting Married’ & I won’t charge you $8 to get in!
‘Rachel’ is right up there (or should I say ‘down’ there?) with some of the worst movies of 2008; Is it as bad as ‘Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants 2’? Well, it didn’t have any lines nearly as funny as ‘the pants would have wanted it that way’ - Or those inane flicks ‘What Happens In Vegas’, ‘Fool’s Gold’ & ‘Over Her Dead Body’? Well, no it isn’t THAT bad – but for a movie that’s supposedly ‘Oscar’ material, it gets the award for biggest disappointment.
The plot is simple; Anne Hathaway’s Kym is released from rehab so she may attend her sister Rachel’s wedding. Nothing matters more to Kym that what affects Kym – how dare her sister NOT chose her drug addicted sister to be her Maid of Honor – Why are we talking about Rachel all the time when fabulous Kym is in the room? My constant smoking bothers you? Well, tough titties, I’m KYM, dammit – I can do whatever I want, I’m in rehab you know? By the time we learn about the horrible accident that sent Kym into a ‘suicidal downward spiral’ (She was previously just on an ‘average’ downward spiral) we DON’T CARE because Kym is an annoying little bitch who isn’t happy unless every eye in the room is focused on her & she is in the middle of making everyone uncomfortable by bringing them down to her level of depression... Her own family doesn’t want her around, so why should we want to view this abhorrent behavior for 2 hours?
But Kym ISN’T the worst part of this movie! Get a load of this intriguing plot twist –
For a good 10 minute chunk of wasted celluloid, director Jonathan Demme thought it would be a great idea to show two men loading a dishwasher with dirty dishes. Once again, I swear on a stack of Penthouse Forums, I AM NOT MAKING THAT UP.
Then we have to sit thru the ENTIRE WEDDING CEREMONY... from the cheesy band playing a Jimi Hendrix-style ‘Here Comes The Bride’ (I think the band members names were officially listed as’ the 2 kids that live next door’) to watching every bridesmaid traipse down the aisle while the female guests all ‘sing’ “Rachel” & the males sing “Sidney”(the groom) but, believe it or not, it actually gets worse than that – We are hopeful when the ‘nuptials’ are brief & to the point but then – Golly, I almost hate to spoil the surprise in case you STILL want to go & sit thru this disaster, but I’ll sleep better knowing that I gave you fair warning... Sidney(The whitest dark-skinned black man on the planet) sings Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” a cappella (What, he didn’t know the words to “Helpless”?)
During this exasperating sequence I whispered to my wife, “From now on NO MORE movies with ‘MARRIED’ or ‘WEDDING’ in the title – Never Again!”
I appreciated the mixing of the races, but Demme just went overboard with it – Dad’s
2nd wife is black as well; Asians, Gays, Brits & Nerds all commingle together like one big international stew while The 2 kids that live next door jam with African drummers, Indian belly dancers & Jamaican Reggae singers.
Rosemarie DeWitt does an okay job as bride-to-be Rachel & I really liked Bill Irwin as the wishy-washy ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ Dad, but Debra Winger, whom I have never cared for, hasn’t improved with age – her cameo as Kym & Rachel’s mother is just short of embarrassing – she has one big flare up scene & then sleep-walks thru the rest of the film... & some have suggested this as a Best Supporting Actress nomination? You’ve got to be kidding me!
Saving Anne Hathaway for last – she’ll probably get nominated for this – Hollywood loves drunks & drug addicts - & she’s very good in the role; Kym is most definitely unlikable... but so is this movie. There is NO payoff at the end – the film finishes as blandly as it began. There WAS an interesting story to be told here, but Jonathan Demme chose not to tell it. Blow out all the wedding crap & focus instead on Kym’s ‘accident’ & how she might recover from it & you’ve got a potentially decent movie on your hands. Due to lack of competition this year, I’d have to place Anne in the Top 5 right now for Best Actress, but Angelina Jolie is so much better in ‘Changeling’ it shouldn’t even be a close vote.
I will end with the one good line I heard – Kym is offered a job by a woman who works at a Public Relations firm. Her response is, “I don’t think so... the public is afraid of me.”
Speaking on behalf of the public at large, allow me to add – The public doesn’t like you, either.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

W.

“W” (Josh Brolin)
It’s as if Oliver Stone thought Michael Moore’s ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ was too tough on GWB, so he decided to make amends by producing this fluff piece.
This film is, as the one recurring scene shows us, a ‘softball’; an easy out pop fly.
Oliver Stone’s ‘W’ is presented as a sympathetic, unappreciated son – The Tom Smothers of politics; Mom and Dad always loved Jeb more & made no bones about letting ‘Jr.’ know where he stood in the family hierarchy. Being brought up in a similar household where one child was blatantly favored over another, I should have been able to identify with GWB – but knowing what he became kept me from bonding with the ‘character’.
The film bounces back & forth from pre-9/11 to post-9/11 without ever touching on that fateful day. No explanation is given as to why W sat in that classroom for so long after being informed that our nation was ‘under attack’ by terrorists... & with that being the case, one has to wonder why Mr. Stone even bothered to make this film?
W’s years of abusing alcohol are skimmed over as a whimsical college phase. For every scene where he is exposed as an inept, unintelligent, uninformed politician, there’s an immediate counter scene showing W in complete control and as someone who learns from his mistakes... Gee, Oliver, how painful was the operation that resulted in having your spine removed?
Josh Brolin gives yeoman’s service in the starring role; not Oscar caliber, but a capable impersonation. It would have been easier to play the man as a complete buffoon so Josh is to be applauded for making W appear to be both competent & inadequate during his climb up the political ladder.
For the supporting cast, no one stands out all that much – I heard a lot of criticism of Thandie Newton’s Condoleeza Rice – Why, because she was annoying? Well, the woman IS annoying, so I had no problem with her being portrayed as such. In fact, the rest of the cast SHOULD have been MORE annoying than they were. Richard Dreyfuss’s Dick Cheney needed to be more bitter & spiteful – instead he challenges Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) as the ‘most intelligent man in the room’ & we all know that the only competent member of that staff was General Powell. My problem with Wright’s portrayal is that he didn’t give the man much of a backbone – Thus, we are to forgive W for waging war against Iraq, despite the fact that there was no logical reason other than attempted world domination, to do so. As chief military advisor, Powell SHOULD have been more adamant against the invasion - Instead it plays out as Oliver Stone offering up another excuse for W’s actions.
Toby Jones plays Bush ass kisser Karl Rove, Bruce McGill has had better roles than George Tenet & Scott Glenn gives no personality at all to Donald Rumsfeld.
My favorite name in acting, Ioan Gruffudd has one scene as Tony Blair & all he does is stand & look befuddled as W tells him, ‘we’re going to war whether there’s a reason to or not...’
James ‘Stretch Cunningham’ Cromwell plays Daddy Bush as a rotten father (to ‘W’ only) but a grand politician... Yet another misrepresentation, Oliver? The only time he displays ‘actual’ George H.W. Bush characterizations is when he breaks down & starts weeping after losing to Clinton. I won’t mention Ellen Burstyn’s lame take on ‘Barb’ other than she could have at least put on 20 or 30 pounds because simply donning a white wig wasn’t sufficient. And I used to think the lady was one of our better actresses.
Elizabeth Banks is beautiful, intelligent & sympathetic as Laura Bush, & to be quite honest with you I have no idea if this is a proper caricature (Other than Laura isn’t nearly as pretty as Ms. Banks) I found it interesting that every time Laura would tell W “Your father’s on the phone,” she would leave the room, only to return just as the conversation ends to ask, “So what did he have to say?”
I was skeptical about the authenticity of one particular scene; Cheney, Bush & several members of his cabinet are seen walking through a field out in the open – there isn’t a single Secret Service man in sight - then they get lost as they wander around discussing strategy. I always thought that the president & vice president were never to be seen together out in the open where they both could be taken down by an assassin – but there they ALL are, walking down a path (near a grassy knoll, no less) with no protection in sight. I’m asking my expert, Alan Smithee to please confirm or enlighten me as to whether or not this scene could have taken place. Then again, since this administration never ‘played by the rules’ perhaps it did take place & W. & his cronies ‘dared’ someone to take a shot at them - & let’s be honest, even though he was huffing & puffing & bringing up the rear, we all know Cheney was packing heat. So perhaps it COULD have taken place, but is there a rule that states the P & VP should not be seen together outside of the White House?
The final scene hints that George Walker Bush is merely a ‘deer caught in the glow of headlights’ and simply can’t see any way out of his predicament – that seems to be the only indictment that Stone throws at the man.
Please forgive me for adding MY personal opinion into what is supposed to be an ‘informative’ review but I found this film to be as unenlightening as it was ‘soft’, so I felt someone had to throw a few hardballs at the over-inflated ‘W.’

Saturday, November 1, 2008

CHANGELING

“CHANGELING” (Angelina Jolie)
I didn’t list the co-stars because this is pretty much a one woman show & the only stand-out among the supporting roles is by an unknown. I’ve never thought much of Clint Eastwood as an actor(All those one-note spaghetti westerns & Dirty Harry roles didn’t show me a lot of range) but as a director he gets the best out of his cast members – In this case, Angelina Jolie. She’s a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination &, as of this moment, the obvious favorite to win. I think she’s a very strange human being, but the lady shows that she has developed into an excellent actress; her performance here is as impressive as they come. The fact that the story is fascinating (based on true life events) & her character goes thru a wide range of emotions while underneath it all being a withdrawn, very private person helps her cause to capture her 2nd Oscar.
Jolie plays Christine Collins, a single mother raising her 9 year old son, Walter in late 1920’s LA. Christine works as a telephone operator supervisor & though she makes enough money to live in a rather large home, she doesn’t seem to have enough to afford a babysitter. To her defense, she is called into work on a Saturday on the day Walter is abducted & turns up missing. How did the boy get taken from his home without screaming or putting up a fight? How come none of the neighbors witnessed this or see any strangers lurking about? Well, those questions are not only left answered, they aren’t even touched upon. (I’m getting my few beefs out of the way because I actually LOVED this film – It is my new #1 of 2008)
Proving that even wonderful movies have flaws, I also wasn’t impressed with John Malkovich’s portrayal of a local priest who ‘goes after’ corrupt cops. (A ‘holy man’ in the 1920’s using the phrase “Where in the Hell is Christine Collins?” – didn’t really ring true to me) My last complaint has to do with the abduction, but I’m not going to mention it in this review as it would reveal too much – All I’ll say is the way the director (Eastwood) explains how Walter’s supposed abductor operates doesn’t match up with what happens...
Which brings me to another extremely impressive performance – that by Jason Butler Harner as Gordon Northcutt – the creepily charming abductor. A very disturbed character given a very unique portrayal by the actor - In a film full of nuanced supporting performances, his stood out to me. Michael Kelly as Detective Ybarra, who discovers the truth about Walter’s disappearance & Amy Ryan, once again packing a lot of power into the few scenes she is given as a prostitute deemed ‘insane’ by the LAPD are also to be applauded for their efforts.
When I first saw the preview to this, I thought ‘how stupid’ – A missing child is returned to his mother & she claims that the boy isn’t her son, but no one believes her??? What kind of nonsense is Clint trying to sell us? When you add in the fact that the boy was missing for only 5 months, it makes it even more ridiculous. So it’s a stretch to ‘buy’ into that premise, but they make it almost seem possible due to how they ‘convince’ Christine to ‘just go along’ with the hoax for now – With the heat off of them to find her ‘real’ son, they’ll be able to follow more leads. When that doesn’t turn out to be the case & Christine starts losing her grip while living with a strange child that calls her mommy, she moves to take action against the LAPD by telling the press what actually happened.
If it wasn’t for the Reverend Gustav Briegleb (Malkovich) Mrs. Collins would have wasted away in a mental ward.
The kid actors are kid actors – they read their lines & you try not to let it interrupt the illusion of watching this story thru the eyes of the characters. It seems that lately the best child actors are female & the better adult actors are male – but not in this case. Angelina Jolie plays a real person & she plays her exceptionally well – not like Robert Downey, Jr. who was just a dude playing a dude that’s pretending to be another dude in ‘Tropic Thunder’, Jolie becomes Christine Collins (Assuming the real Mrs. Collins had big fat lips smothered in big fat red lipstick) Yes, she looked like Angelina, but I didn’t see a speck of the actress in this role. Now I just hope that Sean Penn gets his long overdue 2nd Oscar the same night Angelina gets hers...

Monday, October 27, 2008

PRIDE & GLORY

“PRIDE & GLORY” (Edward Norton, Jon Voight, Colin Farrell & Noah Emmerich)
Odd title for a film about a whole lotta corrupt cops!
It’s all in the family fuzz-style as Edward Norton & the under-rated Noah Emmerich play brothers, Ray & Francis Tierney. Jon Voight plays their father, also a cop & Colin Farrell is Jimmy, brother-in-law to Ray & Francis, Son-in-law to Mr. Tierney. Francis heads a precinct – Jimmy leads one of his units. Ray, who was shot in the face a couple of years earlier holds down a safe desk job – until 4 of Jimmy’s men are found dead in an abandoned apartment. Dad ‘insists’ that Ray take on the case as the lead investigator to ‘get back in the swing of things’. Of course, what Ray discovers is that Jimmy is a crooked cop & Francis either has his head up his rump, or is in on Jimmy’s illegal doings.
When Francis is caught in a flat out lie to his brother on the identity of the cop that ‘blew the whistle’, Ray can only assume that Francis is not to be trusted either. Meanwhile Dad wants Ray to ‘do the right thing’ & ‘protect his own’ – which in this story is a contradiction in terms. Okay, so the dialogue is somewhat hackneyed at times, but it almost makes up for it with some fine acting by Norton & Emmerich, some decent acting by Colin Farrell, who hopefully has discovered he can’t handle a lead role & his future is in secondary characters (So he doesn’t have so much to memorize & is better adept at staying in character)& some so-so walk-thrus by Voight, only showing interest in his character when he has a few too many...
There a few extraneous scenes; such as an elongated Christmas dinner sequence - I’m sorry, I didn’t pay $8 to watch these people eat dinner for five minutes! But on the plus side – Not A Single Car Chase Scene! Now THAT was refreshing! There is a side-plot concerning Francis’s wife who is dying of cancer. It’s a pretty heavy & dramatic circumstance to just be used as a ‘sub’plot – I wanted to know more about the woman & how she became sick & what was her prognosis? Hey, there’s a better title right there, ‘Prognosis: Negative” (Oh wait, that might have already been used)
Just before writing this, I watched the ‘new’ Ebert & Roeper review this film & I gotta tell you, those guys are lame! Ben Lyons (Is that his name?) has the personality of a dead sea anemone & the goatee’d dork, though not as offensive as Lyons, reads his lines like George W. reading ‘The Little Engine That Could’. But it was the anemone who, after chastising the film for its lack of originality, claimed he didn’t like it BECAUSE there WEREN’T any car chase scenes! Yeah, that’s what would have made it less like every other bad cop vs. good cop story, a few car chase scenes! Either bring back Roeper or hire Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog to review films, but get these cookie-cutter milquetoast morons off of my TV – I need to watch that show to find out what some of the lesser publicized films are about & I can’t get a good read on them from this pair of twits... Anyway, off the soapbox & back to ‘Pride & Glory’ – Its worth seeing if you're an Edward Norton fan, the scene where he tells the ‘committee’ ”You’re not going to like what I have to say” is captivating & gives you hope that this film might offer up an exciting original finale... it sort of delivers on orginality, but it isn’t without its flaws & contradictions.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH

“JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH” (Brendan Frasier, Josh Hutcherson & Anita Briem)
When I first saw a preview for this, I thought it was Brendan Frasier taking his niece & nephew to the center of the earth & it would be nothing but a kiddie flick with hokey 3D effects, but I was wrong; it’s actually, Brendan, his nephew & a very hot looking mountain guide named Hannah (Hoping to see the gorgeous Anita Briem in a sexier role in the near future) that travel to the center of the earth & find nothing but hokey #D effects... So even though I wasn’t turned off by the premise anymore, the end result is still a definite kiddie flick with hokey 3D effects (Though I saw it in ‘regular’ D)
This ‘re-make’ has nothing to do with the original film starring James Mason & Pat Boone, though the Jules Verne novel acts as the inspiration & guide book Frasier’s Professor Trevor Anderson uses to find his long lost brother (& father of nephew Sean-
played by special effects veteran child actor Josh Hutcherson)
The dialogue is dumb, the FX are hokey & childish, but damn, is that Anita Briem cute!
As much as I tried to forgive the film for the misguided tram car roller coaster ride and the two minute long falling sequence in which all three plummeters land unharmed, I couldn’t forgive the ‘running from the 25 foot tall Tyrannosaurus Rex for five minutes’ scene & the huge dinosaur doesn’t gain any ground on the Professor & the young boy...
Now, I know T. Rex’s existed, but I can’t really tell you if they were exceptionally slow runners, but I’m just guessing that anything that is four times the size of a pair of two-legged humans would more than likely be able to catch up to them in a foot race.
I disliked this movie from start to finish but yet I am not sorry I spent $3 at the now ‘bargain price’ East Valley Theatre to see it because now I know to be on the look out for that very fetching lass, Anita Briem (Appearing next in ‘The Storytellers')
I'd say if I were a child & had never seen a 3D movie before, I'd like to see this while wearing the stupid glasses & I'd probably think it was neat-o... but unfortunately I'm a grown up who needs his kiddie flicks to be a little more sophisicated than this silly re-make of a very well made implausible movie from MY
youth.

Monday, October 20, 2008

WHAT JUST HAPPENED?

“WHAT JUST HAPPENED?” (Robert DeNiro, Bruce Willis, Michael Wincott, Catherine Keener, John Turturro, Robin Wright Penn, Stanley Tucci & Sean Penn)
Parts of this movie work very well, it has a few laugh out loud moments, but mainly it consists of ‘winks & grins’ as Hollywood once again sets out to make fun of what ‘Hollywood’ does for a living (with an expose on how a film gets paid for & distributed)
Robert DeNiro plays Ben, A film producer badly in need of a ‘hit’ – His latest project is an off-beat thriller called “Fiercely” starring Sean Penn. “What Just Happened?” opens with a test audience at a special screening of “Fiercely”. Early reaction isn’t exactly enthusiastic so when Penn’s character is shot by the bad guys, the crowd yawns. But when the following scene depicts a graphic blood splattering shot of Penn’s canine companion taking a bullet thru the skull, the audience becomes downright hostile. On their comment sheets one person just wrote ‘F You’; another drew a huge hand giving the filmmakers ‘the finger’; other remarks were along the lines of ‘I hope you all rot in hell for killing that poor dog!’, while one ‘fan’ wrote, “You killed the dog! . . . Dude, that was awesome!” (Someone who thinks Sean Penn is actually Jeff Spicoli)
Catherine Keener plays a studio exec that is in charge of green-lighting this particular project; she tells Ben – change the ending, or we pull out.
Michael Wincott plays the British director/writer of ‘Fiercely’ & refuses to change his ‘masterpiece’. A wonderful performance which unfortunately suffers a bit from Wincott’s overly thick accent & extremely gruff ‘cigarette’ throat that makes some of his lines incoherent.
John Turturro is quite funny as Bruce Willis’ agent who has a stomach disorder.
Stanely Tucci isn’t very funny as Scott, a ‘script’ researcher that has recently begun dating Ben’s ex-wife(Robin Wright Penn)
& then of course there are the ‘real life’ cameos of Bruce Willis playing Bruce Willis & Sean Penn playing Sean Penn. Penn is given second billing... Why, I do not know – he has four or five mumbled lines & is basically shown in the shooting scene over & over again, while Willis, way down in the list of credits is given a much meatier role as ‘difficult to deal with’ actor Bruce Willis. He shows up on the set for his next action blockbuster wearing a ‘Grizzly Adams’ beard & refuses to shave. He has a major hissy fit, screaming obscenities & destroying props while telling his agent & producer Ben that he will not shave because his fans will know which one Bruce Willis is – “Oh, there he is – the guy with the beard!”
So Ben’s assignments are to get the director/writer to edit out the murder of the dog in ‘Fiercely’ & get Bruce Willis to shave or they’ll shut down production.
One sideline to the plot involves an agent that recently committed suicide & Ben’s discovering that his teenage daughter was somehow ‘involved’ with the older man... Just to let you know ahead of time – this storyline is left totally unresolved. Scott’s affair with Ben’s ex-wife that he still is in love with... left totally unresolved. It’s like, if it doesn’t concern the movie business, it doesn’t matter if it’s left up in the air...
So sometimes this film clicks – the final cut of ‘Fiercely’ is hilarious - & sometimes it’s just scattered pieces of ideas that don’t fit together. Plus, you really have to want to know how the movie industry works to appreciate all the wheeling & dealing & meetings about nothing that take place. It is a good movie that could have been better with a few edits (more or less)

The SECRET LIFE OF BEES

“The SECRET LIFE OF BEES” (Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson & Paul Bettany)
This film is set in a very disturbing time in our nation’s history, thus making it very difficult to watch at times; yet amidst the racial injustices, the Boatwright sisters managed to carve out a nice living during the turbulent early-to-mid 60’s in the Southeastern United States.
The story concerns 14 year old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) who escapes her abusive father by running away with her black friend Rosalee (Jennifer Hudson) after Rosalee is beaten up by a crotchety old white man for trying to register to vote.
Paul Bettany plays the ‘somewhat over-the-top’ angry father & he makes it a little too easy to dislike his character. I will give this film some credit for not falling into that chick flick standard – All Males Are Cretins & Have No Redeeming Qualities – mode by bringing in a kindly white ‘lawyer’ (Of all characters to make likeable!)
But once Lily & Rosalee make it to their destination, a small town where Lily’s dead mother grew up, this becomes almost an all black cast filled with endearing, annoying & oddball women. On some levels it works (& I am, of course speaking from the MALE point of view) I thought Queen Latifah finally found a role that fit her perfectly (& it’s a good thing the Jenny Craig diet failed because a skinny Queen Latifah probably wouldn’t have worked here) I had not seen Dakota Fanning for a while & was
worried that my all-time favorite child actress had grown up & lost her natural ability to act, but gratefully, she is in fine form here. A truly disturbing sentence was uttered by a critic when a scene with Dakota & Hudson was shown & the critic said, “Dakota Fanning with Oscar Winner Jennifer Hudson”... Something is very very wrong with the ‘Academy’ when someone with such minimal talent is an Oscar winner & the best child actor in history isn’t. Hudson’s attempt at acting in this serious film with light-hearted touches is downright embarrassing. Much more impressive were Alicia Keys & Sophie Okonedo as Queen Latifah’s sisters, May & June... & no, QL doesn’t play July Boatwright, that would just be silly . . . she plays August Boatwright. & did I mention that May’s departed twin was named April? Rosalee mutters, “I suppose next we’ll meet September, October & November” after meeting the 3 sisters & the overwhelming crowd of females in the theatre burst out laughing as though it was the funniest line they’ve ever heard... you woman are so easy to please sometimes, it’s scary!
The Boatwright sisters make a living by selling honey, August takes Lily under her wing & teaches her the ‘secrets of keeping a happy productive hive’, Rosalee joins May in the kitchen, while the good looking sister, June, just seems to sit around in Capri
slacks & acts disgusted by the nice decent guy that loves her with all his heart.
But it’s a nice though slow moving story – sometimes overly clich├ęd, but the connection between Lily & August is what drew me into caring about these people.
Lily becomes infatuated with the black boy that helps with the honey business & you know how well that’s going to sit with the racists in town. When the boy turns up missing after being caught sitting with Lily in a movie theatre, everyone is naturally concerned for his well-being, but for some reason this story takes just a totally off-the-wall turn that is suppose to be heavily dramatic; instead it comes across (to this particular male viewer) as forced & phony – so it lost me for a while with the maudlin funeral sequence.
I would like to say the ending is original & unexpected but... this IS a chick flick, so yes, it does fizzle out at the end by kowtowing to those who crave the proverbial ‘happy ending’. I would also like to say that despite the ending, I’d still recommend this film to ‘everyone’, but I can’t – for one reason & one reason only; for health reasons my wife & I are usually the last to leave the theatre, but when the closing song kept repeatedly asking me if I was aware that the sky was blue I couldn’t take it anymore & I struggled to get my crippled butt out of that theatre as fast as I could!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

BODY OF LIES

“BODY OF LIES” (Leonardo DiCaprio & Russell Crowe)
For the first 45 minutes or so of ‘Body Of Lies’ I felt like I was stuck in another ‘Syriana’; just a convoluted mess of a movie that shifts from scene to scene by telling us nothing more than the name of the city/building in which the segment we’re about to watch takes place. Discerning the bad guys from the good guys is nearly impossible & characters are introduced via quickie bio’s on a computer monitor, inserted into the storyline briefly & then shown as corpses that have been dumped like yesterday’s trash... But one thing kept this film from falling into that whirlwind of confusion – DiCaprio’s Roger Ferris is in practically every scene – he’s the constant that keeps the plot from becoming too bogged down with too many, “Who was that guy?” “Why did they kill him?” & “Just what in the heck is going on here?” questions.
Ferris is a CIA operative working the entire Middle East; wherever his contact in Washington needs him – that’s where he goes. Crowe plays the contact, Ed Hoffman; an overweight family man with a graying crew cut (Is this where Russell’s character from L.A. Confidential finally wound up?) who is constantly on the phone with Ferris. He drops the kids off at soccer practice while listening to his agent in the field call him 3 and 4 syllabled filthy names for not protecting someone who helped them – thus ending up in the morgue or a pile of garbage. Some accomplices are used without their knowledge & are placed in harms way by the ‘good guys’. & when they turn up missing, Crowe’s Hoffman can just shrug it off as a casualty of war, while DiCaprio’s Ferris must live with the consequences since he’s in the one being shot at & held accountable for Hoffman’s heartless decisions.
The film begins to make sense with the arrival of Mark Strong as the head of Jordan’s CIA counterpart, Hani Salaam. Strong, looking uncannily like Andy Garcia, plays the role exceptionally well; you’re never sure if he’s on ‘our’ side – ‘their’ side – or the most likely conclusion – he has his own agenda & you’re never sure what that entails... One thing is made perfectly clear, Salaam is not a man who want to have catch you in a lie – Even knowing this, Ferris decides to act on his own & runs the risk of being caught telling a whopper... This is where the movie switches from ‘at least I understand what’s going on now’ – to – ‘& not only that, it’s becoming an intriguing story’.
The biggest drawback to ‘Body Of Lies’ is the fact that most of Crowe & DiCaprio’s conversations take place over the phone – as the best scenes from an acting standpoint are when they are standing face to face, & there’s only a handful of those.
A love-interest is ‘tacked-on’ simply for plot reasons – Since Ferris hops from city to city & from partner to partner, he has no friends – no one that he would sacrifice anything to save, so Golshifteh Farahani (pronounced Shia Ioan LeBeouf Gruffudd) is introduced as Aisha, a nurse that tends to Ferris’s wounds after he is bitten by a rabid dog. When his cover is blown & the proverbial feces hits the fan, Ferris is forced to give himself up to the terrorist he’s been tracking in the hopes of saving her life after being photographed with him.
Everything ties together in the end & the finale is expertly written – from the way the terrorists ‘kidnap’ Ferris so that the CIA can’t follow him with their satellites – to the interrogation of Ferris by the ‘Bin Laden’ of this story. If you’ve paid attention to what was going on in the confusing beginning, you understand what happens at the end.
It took a long time for me to appreciate Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘style’ of acting but he has hit three home runs in a row with this, “Blood Diamond” & “The Departed”. Not that he hasn’t been in other excellent films (“The Aviator” & “Gangs Of New York” come to mind) but he’s never impressed me with his acting ability until recently – the kid is a bona fide movie star now. Unlike Tom Cruise, he can go head to head with a Russell Crowe & hold his own, instead of being embarrassed by looking amateurish next to a Paul Newman (Color Of Money) or Jack Nicholson (A Few Good Men)
Russell Crowe’s performance isn’t that impressive but only due to the fact that he speaks most of his lines into a telephone that seems to be permanently glued in his ear – he shines when he’s in the same room with DiCaprio (& Strong) & even when he’s foiled by the bad guys & loses track of Ferris’ whereabouts, he delivers the words, “Sorry, kid,” with just a touch of actual regret & remorse – Yet you still get the feeling that he’s more concerned with who he will be able to get to replace Ferris in the field than he is with his fellow CIA agent’s safety...

Friday, October 10, 2008

RELIGULOUS

“RELIGULOUS” (Bill Maher)
I’m not a big fan of documentaries – the last four I went to were “Sicko”, “An Inconvenient Truth”, “March Of The Penguins” & “Fahrenheit 9/11” They were all mildly entertaining, but mostly educational (& I don’t like to put new info into my cranium as I fear it will push out relevant facts such as ‘Who wrote ‘Dandy’ for Herman’s Hermits?’)
This documentary was more entertaining than it was educational. Although the first thing I said to my wife when it ended was, “Unfortunately the people who should see this film, won’t.”
I would implore anyone who has been a low-impact church goer (You go on the days you feel you ‘have’ to; Christmas, Easter, etc.) or anyone who has questioned some of the stories that have been written as to how mankind came into being – to go see this film.
#1 – You more than likely will laugh more than you have at any documentary you have ever seen & #2 – You just might have an enlightened experience as to what religion actually stands for around this orb we call earth.
Bill Maher is a non-believer who was brought up Catholic & was forced to go to church services every Sunday with his father & sister. Mom never went. When he became an adult Bill discovered his mother was Jewish, but allowed dad to bring the kids up believing what he believed. Bill even admits to praying to God when he was in his forties after going thru a tough break-up with a longtime love interest. So the man knows his religion; knows what it’s like to be religious. What he does mainly in this documentary is travel around the world & asks various religious ‘staples’ – What do you believe & WHY do you believe it? The first question is easily answered, the latter isn’t.
Many times Bill isn’t even allowed to ask his questions because someone in PR recognizes him & has him ‘removed’ from the premises.
I’ve heard reviewers say that Bill doesn’t poke fun at the people he’s interviewing & for the most part that is true – he doesn't do it during the interviews – but in post production editing many film clips & captions are used to do just that. So if you are a person of a strong faith, this movie isn’t for you – You will be insulted because the filmmakers go after every known religion (& A couple of unknowns as well)
There is one scene with the most refreshing priest I’ve ever seen – I wondered why he would still stay in the ‘business’ after making some very strong un-priestlike comments on Jesus & those who take the bible literally as the word of God.
A Senator from Arkansas is interviewed and comes across as a fairly intelligent man, but the more Maher questions him on his ‘beliefs’ the more uncomfortable & less chatty the good Senator becomes. I liked him, actually – he knew when to shut up instead of continuing to sling the B.S. (like most politicians would)
That’s the pattern that emerges – those that allow Bill to complete his interviews are more than happy to espouse on ‘what’ they believe, but don’t seem to have a realistic explanation as to ‘why’ they believe it.
There’s a scene where some whacky theologian is building a religious museum where one of the exhibits shows plastics dinosaurs frolicking beside a pond with plastic human children – just to show that dinosaurs & mankind could have existed at the same time...
No, I am not making that up.
Even though I said this was an entertaining documentary (I even caught my spiritual, Catholic schooled wife chuckling on several occasions) I also feel it is an important one – I felt every American should have taken the time to see ‘Inconvenient Truth’ & ‘Farenheit 9/11’, but this one may be the most important one of all. I wondered if I could write an unbiased review of this film without injecting my own beliefs & I think I could have done so except in his closing statements Bill Maher urged those of us who already agreed with his philosophy to speak up & start spreading the ‘logic’. Why? Because the deeply devoted pious ‘leaders’ that are depicted in ‘Religulous’ are going to lead us all to an early grave unless we start un-brainwashing the citizens of America and get them to open their eyes to the truth about religious cults & false idols and join the civilized countries with the fewest percentage of population that think the stories in the bible actually happened instead of being at the highest percentage with the Turkeys...
Obviously by making such a statement I stand to lose some readers – I certainly hope that doesn’t happen; as I did with a film such as ‘Atonement’ when I asked for someone who liked it to tell me ‘WHY’, I’d like anyone that watched this film & found it to be offensive to do the same – Please explain ‘why’ it offended you.
There is a scene early in ‘Religulous’ where Bill joins a trailer full of ‘Truckers For Jesus’ & starts questioning their beliefs – with a tinge of sarcasm, yes, but he was basically asking them why they loved Jesus and one of the truckers stood up, said he didn’t like what Bill was implying & walked out. Yes, Maher thought that what they believed in was ridiculous, but wouldn’t you welcome the chance to shoot someone like that down (Not literally, as I’m sure that trucker would have liked) but go toe to toe with this mocking blowhard & stand up for what you truly believed? I would, but I'm a mocking blowhard with strong opinions myself!
As always, I welcome your comments whether you agree with my views or not - & that is one thing a film like this creates – lively conversation among intelligent beings.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

APPALOOSA

“APPALOOSA” (Ed Harris, Viggo Mortenson, Renee Zellweger & Jeremy Irons)
“Appaloosa” is no “3:10 To Yuma”; in fact “Appaloosa” borrows the main plot of “3:10” & doesn’t do it nearly as well.
What Appaloosa adds to the mix is a female presence... a very unwelcome female presence in the form of Renee Zellweger (as Allie)
She arrives in town for no apparent reason & immediately starts to flirt with the newly appointed town Marshall, Virgil Cole (Ed Harris)
I guess being old enough to be her father makes Allie look a lot purdier than she really is, but am I the only male in the world that doesn’t think Renee Zellweger is all that attractive?
It seems like every other movie she’s in 2 decent looking guys are fighting over her like she’s the second coming of Marilyn Monroe! To me, she looks like Yeardley Smith’s slightly better looking sister (Yeardley is known as being the voice of Lisa Simpson)
Anyway, back to the plot - Virgil is smitten by Allie’s ‘school marm’ demeanor & escalated by her whorish behavior in bed. They decide to build a house on the edge of
town.
The best part of ‘Appaloosa’ though is Viggo Mortenson’s portrayal of Virgil’s deputy & long-time friend Everett. The ease into which both Mortenson & Harris blend into their characters & react to one another is quite impressive & fun to watch. They didn’t absolutely blow me away like Crowe & Bale did in ‘3:10’, but they are the only reason I
would recommend anyone to spend money to catch this flick.
There are script problems & just something about Zellweger that just didn’t click with this film...
Virgil & Everett are ‘hired guns’ but perform the occupation legally by becoming lawmen. They are summoned to the town of Appaloosa in New Mexico when the Sheriff & his 2 deputies disappear after heading out to the Bragg spread to arrest two of his hired hands for murdering a young couple. When Bragg (Jeremy Irons) first appears he has a distracting English tint to his accent which disappears rather abruptly – other than that Irons is his usual top quality bad guy...
Virgil immediately adopts a fight fire with fire attitude & ‘legally’ guns down 3 of Bragg’s men for resisting arrest (Well, Virgil kills 2 of them, Everett nails the third)
This isn’t as heavy-handed as it sounds, there are several comedic moments usually uttered by the ‘I don’t give a crap what YOU think’ Virgil & also from Virgil’s inability to come up with the ‘right’ word to say – the less talkative Everett always spits it out for him.
The problems with the script derive from contradictions by Virgil – He allows Bragg to escape & then later says, “You can’t be a lawman & let somebody take your prisoner.”
He claims that he ‘Takes the legal side seriously’ followed by “What the hell am I if I don’t?” – This line comes after Virgil has beaten an innocent man unconscious...
There could have/ should have been a nice little twist in the plot to explain why Allie suddenly shows up in the middle of nowhere unescorted - they come up with a plausible reason for this & then dismiss it. Apparently she’s a more interesting character if she’s ‘just a whore’; an unfaithful, untalented, unattractive lying little whore... & yet somehow I didn’t like the addition of this character – She should have been a welcome sight, but nope, just doesn’t work here – she’s just annoying & there is no reason whatsoever for Virgil to stay with her.
“Support Your Local Sheriff” did the comedy better & “3:10 To Yuma” did the drama better (& was simply a much better movie from start to finish) but yet ‘Appaloosa’ is still an easy film to ride along with simply due to the characterizations supplied by Ed & Viggo.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

LAKEVIEW TERRACE

“LAKEVIEW TERRACE” (Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson & Kerry Washington)

I liked this movie until they decided to make Samuel L. Jackson’s racially biased cop a raving lunatic... To me, Samuel’s character, Abel Turner, was the good guy throughout most of the film. I’ll have to give away more of the plot than I normally like, but here’s the scenario; Abel lives in an affluent neighborhood with his teenaged daughter & pre-teen son. Mom’s absence is explained later. Abel’s ability to afford such a ‘luxury’ home on a cop’s salary is explained with one sentence, “Good thing I bought 20 years ago.”
Abel patrols the neighborhood nightly, turns on large spotlights to discourage would-be burglars from coming onto his property & insists that his children speak proper English, mind their manners & respect their elders... Yet, somehow he is portrayed as ‘the bad guy’. Abel has a Latino partner who seems a bit uneasy as he rides along in their squad car, but when the pair are called to a domestic disturbance where an ex-husband is threatening to kill his one time spouse & their child, Abel reacts in a professional manner while apprehending the would-be murderer who has shot at the officers 3 times. Abel has every right to blow this jerk away & yet he just scares the bejeezus out of the S.O.B. When the ‘should-be-grateful’ attempted murderer files a lawsuit against Abel, he is put on probation.
That’s Abel’s background; from what I witnessed, a caring, loving father who actually disciplines his children (The cad!) A good cop who risks his life to keep the streets safe for law abiding citizens & a man who cares about his home & neighbors - yet all the while clearly being pegged as the bad guy simply because he doesn’t like seeing a mixed-race couple moving in next door.
Which brings us to the ‘good guy’ Chris Mattson (Patrick Wilson) Chris is a pretentious jerk – whiter than milk, he thinks he’s hip because he listens to loud, annoying rap. He secretly smokes outside & carelessly tosses his butts into Abel’s yard. His own father-in-law doesn’t like him & makes it very clear that he doesn’t want this man to father his grandchildren – yet when Abel makes a racially suggestive statement concerning his marriage, Chris is outraged & acts as if the fact that he’s white & his wife Lisa (Kerry Washington) is black has never been an ‘issue’ with anyone until Abel came along!
The opening concern deals with one of Abel’s spotlights shining into the Mattson’s bedroom window... The simple solution is to buy a set of dark curtains, but instead Mr. & Mrs. Newcomer decide to complain to their cop neighbor who is trying to provide his children with protection to turn the spotlight off instead... Abel says he will, then doesn’t... I’d have done the same thing, except I’d have said, “Can’t you people afford curtains? – I’m trying to protect ‘our’ properties!”
Instead of making the logical solution by putting up curtains, Chris decides it would be more neighborly to set up his own set of bright lights & purposely aim them toward Abel’s bedroom window... & still, Abel’s the BAD GUY?
The Mattson’s have a pool in their backyard which is in plain view of Abel’s children’s bedrooms – they get to witness the couple getting naked & having sex to ‘Christen’ the luxury item. Abel is again regarded as a jerk because of ‘the way’ he complains about the frisky couple allowing his children to view their dalliance.
Time after time, Abel is regarded as the jerk, when to my mind, the Mattson’s were the rotten neighbors – I’d have been more than happy to live in Abel’s neighborhood, I would hate to have a**holes like Chris & Lisa living next door.
After a chance meeting at a local bar, Abel explains to Chris why inter-racial couples ‘bother’ him - & the story of what happened to his wife is revealed; so he actually has a reason to be somewhat resentful, whereas Chris’s father-in-law’s reasons for disliking him seemed to be because he was white & he married his daughter, yet dad-in-law isn’t portrayed as a ‘monster’ (Probably because they cast ‘Barney Miller’ cop Ron Glass in the role)
Eventually, of course, Abel goes overboard & becomes a raving maniac, but there’s absolutely no reason for it – HE’S the GOOD GUY! So instead of creating something new in the genre, the filmmakers fall back into ‘everybody expects the edgy cop to blow a gasket & go stark raving mad, so let’s give ‘em what they want!’
I hated the ending, it was predictable & totally implausible, as well as sending the message that most cops are trigger happy lunatics that will snap at the drop of a hat.
Samuel seemed to have a good time with this role, though; yes, his icy glares & wicked smirks gave cause for one to believe he wasn’t as ‘nice’ a neighbor as one might believe, but his deeds were honorable for the first two/thirds of the film & it was only for the sake of creating a ‘tension-filled’ showdown in the final scenes that they took this complex character & made him an unreasonable whack-job...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

NIGHTS IN RODANTHE

“NIGHTS AT RODANTHE” (Diane Lane & Richard Gere)
For an out & out tear-jerking chick flick this isn’t horrible. There’s the obligatory scene of
‘This bore is a complete a**hole, but I’ll sleep with him anyway because he looks like an older version of that guy who was in ‘An Officer & A Gentlemen’ – but other than that, I don’t have any ‘major’ complaints... I do have several minor ones, though.
First off, a better actor in the role of Dr. Flanner would have helped a lot. Gere’s had a couple of good outings lately, but here he falls back into that ‘I’ll Squint For Every Scene
In Which I’m Supposed To Show Emotion In’ mode.
Diane Lane is very good as Adrienne, the mother of a teenage daughter who looks exactly like one of Ozzy Osbourne’s spawn & a 10 year old Harry Potter clone (Neither of which looks remotely like Ms. Lane)
When Adrienne’s jerk-wad ex-husband asks to come crawling back into her life after being dumped by the younger bimbo he left her for – Adrienne actual considers allowing him back into her life (For the sake of the children)
She’s promised to be the caretaker of her best friend’s Inn in Rodanthe for 4 days & she tells her ex she’ll think about it while she’s gone.
The only guest at the Inn is a Mr. Flanner (Gere) who doesn’t have a lot going for him in the personality department (In fact, he’s somewhat of a jerk-wad himself) Yet still you sense that Adrienne is attracted to him because he reminds her of that whore from ‘American Gigalo’.
When Adrienne discovers the reason for ‘Doctor’ Flanner’s visit & sees first hand what a truly uncaring louse the man is – she sleeps with him. Why? I guess because he reminded her of the ‘John’ from ‘Pretty Woman’, who knows? The movie wants you to think it’s due to a storm that hits the Inn, but I think my theory is closer to the truth...
It seems to me that in order to make a successful chick flick, the leading lady has to sleep with some unlikable creep & THEN he turns into a decent guy. Is that the secret ladies?
Is that why those of us who were decent to begin with never stood a chance with you? Do you all have that desire to Change us men? Trust me, if you slept with us after knowing us only an hour or so, we wouldn’t want to change you!
This movie would have been much more plausible if only they had Adrienne bed Dr. Flanner AFTER his metamorphosis...
The rest of the film dies a horrible death as Dr. Flanner flies off to some remote corner of the world to repair his relationship with his son & we have to sit thru endless scenes of Adrienne reading Flanner’s love letters. This pledge of undying love coming from a man she knew for 4 days – You know if you women would wait a few years before deciding to fall hopelessly in love like we men do, you wouldn’t have nearly as many heartbreaking moments in your lives. But I digress... What really disappointed me was the fact that Dr. Flanner’s letters were exceptionally bland (& a little gay) – I was surprised that he never asked her how she felt about using live gerbils & duct tape to ‘enhance’ their lovemaking techniques!
Add in numerous scenes of Adrienne’s construction of a ‘keepsake’ box for the lover she knew for 4 days & you begin to understand how heavy handed & over-wrought the final scenes of this film play out.
Does Adrienne cave in to her children’s wishes & allow ‘daddy’ to come back home?
Or does she ‘dis’ her ex & cause her children to loathe her by waiting for the redeemed Dr. Flanner?
Well, it’s a typically sappy chick flick – YOU write the ending...